Back when Jimmy Saville was just a popular DJ whose only known penchant was for gaudy jewellery, I was in love with Miss McCarthy. She was my 2nd year schoolteacher. She was dark haired, ebony eyed and a wearer of mini skirts and long boots that showed off her smooth, shapely legs.
As a shy 8 year old, I doubt the attraction was sexual, certainly not in any recognizably physical way. But her sweet nature, proficiency with the acoustic folk guitar and way with the Roald Dahl put her at the forefront of my list of ‘favourite teachers’.
Her role must have been a pleasantly unchallenging one back then – compared with today’s exam-fixated teaching professionals. The most Miss McCarthy had to cope during her working day with was the occasional incontinence of ‘Florry’, the rather grubby little girl who occasionally appeared in the classroom when her parents weren’t travelling the county tarmac-ing people’s drives, or a psychotic outburst from Kenny Sallis who would happily chew the Formica off his work-table if not allowed to play with the ‘sticklebricks’ first.
Either way, Miss McCarthy would smile sweetly, dish out the Dettol or Sticklebricks, and then get everyone else back onto their colouring. By 3.30 pm her mini clubman would leave the school gates with all the reticence of Sebastien Vettel on pole position with a clear track in front of him. No devotee of the homework – and far keener on marking exercises at the end of each lesson than taking them home with her, Miss McCarthy probably spent every evening entertaining her army of enslaved followers in a series of ever more erotic encounters. Anyway, that’s what my imagination says and I’m sticking with it.
It’s also so different for the modern teaching professional. According to an article on the BBC website, a primary school teacher today will work nearly 60 hours every week.
Now, I like to consider myself dedicated to my art but even I would begin to feel a little jaded working 12 hour days week in, week out. What’s really scary about these figures is the fact that the teachers claim that less than one third of their working time is actually spent in the classroom. On average, only 19 hours each week is actually spent with the kiddiwinks hammering times tables and punctuation into their You Tube-raddled infant brains.
It was at this point that I started to worry a little about the modern teacher’s grasp on arithmetic. Because according to this survey, around 25% of their working week is spent on activities they need to perform outside of the classroom. So if I’ve got this straight, they spend around 20 hours a week teaching the kids, and a further 15 hours marking Stacey’s workbook, genning up on Egyptian dieties, and cutting and pasting those meaningless, politically-correct, template synopses into your child’s yearly report card.
That’s a grand total of 35 hours of teaching or teaching related activities. So what are they doing with the other 25 hours each week? I remember that in my day, many teachers were partial to a bowlful of ‘Old Holborn’ at break time and even a pint or two of bitter at lunch. But even Mr Clark, a notorious old booze monkey would have found it difficult to sink ‘Ram and Special’ for 5 hours every working day and then remain conscious as 5C worked they way through Five Go Dogging in Dorset’ or whatever that week’s ‘class book’ might have been.
Granted, back in the 70s Offsted hadn’t been invented and the only checks and balances on teachers were administered by the courts when one of their profession became a little too heavy-handed with the board-rubber or light fingered with Mollie Titmuss. But by and large, their success was judged on whether a child could read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.
So presumably, in this target driven age, 5 hours of every teacher’s day is spent preparing for those Offsted visits. It’s a large tract of time. What do they have to do? Have their hair perm-ed and teeth polished? Learn ancient Sanskrit? Master Flappy Birds to Sensai level?
Now all of this preparation for testing – and then the actual testing – would make sense if there was a stream of aspiring youngsters, leaving our schools bursting with academic qualifications and an unquenchable desire to out-achieve their Asian peers as Mr Cove, sorry Gove, insists we should. However, when it comes to sums and languages it would appear that the emerging nations are much more successful than our own overworked professionals. How many more hours a week do the teachers of Beijing or Mumbai put in if it’s more than the 60 our own do? Do they sleep at all? Will you find them slumped across their desk, asleep in their rice bowl and covered in a fine layer of chalk dust?
I’m doubting it. What I think we’re seeing here is our UK teacher’s bundling practically everything that happens during their day into part of their day job. They’re just getting a bit creative with their definitions of work and live.
Stuck in traffic at the lights? That’s preparation for geography. Waiting behind some old biddy in Tescos? That’s a lesson plan for economics. Watching Masterchef with a glass of white wine and a ping risotto? That’s Year 3’s Wednesday domestic science lesson taken care of.
Now OK, we’re all inclined to inflate our toils a little – especially when it comes to filling in the timesheets and tax returns. But for the teaching profession this simply doesn’t work. We all know they work from around 8.15 to 4.00. And we appreciate they put in a few extra hours marking books and reading up on the latest criteria for passing the ‘Super Star A Plus’ exam. And yes, they do have to stay late on parent’s night and man the coconut shy at the Summer fete. But let’s not forget they also get 12 weeks paid leave a year. So even if they did really work a 60-hour week – they get plenty of time to recuperate too.